Everyday conversations: Writing a college essay [audio]

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A student does research while writing his college essay. (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Six students from around the world meet. What do they have in common? They are all exchange students studying at a U.S. university for a semester. Throughout the semester, they learn more English, learn about U.S. culture, and learn more about their fields of study. This series of Everyday Conversations is about these six students and their experiences during a semester at a university in the U.S. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

One student (Akinyi) asks another (Ajay) about writing a college essay.

Akinyi: Hi, Ajay. Thanks for meeting me to talk about your college essay writing experience. Jana and Lucía told me you wrote a fantastic college essay.

Ajay: Well, it wasn’t that great. Is this for your cousin who’s applying to college in the U.S?

Akinyi: Yes, it is. Is there any advice you can give my cousin about writing her college essay?

Ajay: Sure. The first thing is to start early. She should plan on revising the essay many times. And that takes time. Her essay won’t be a masterpiece the first time. And if she pressures herself to write perfectly the first time, she might end up with bad writer’s block.

Akinyi: I think that may have happened to me when I tried to write my essay.

Ajay: It’s not uncommon, especially if you put pressure on yourself. Another great tip is to be concise. Her essay shouldn’t ramble on. She should avoid purple prose.

Akinyi: Only a writer would use the phrase “purple prose.” I haven’t heard that in a while.

Ajay: Well, journalists like being succinct!

Akinyi: It’s a great skill to have as a writer. We have to write succinct memos in my business classes. It can be really hard. So, any other advice for my cousin?

Ajay: I think it’s really important for her to be genuine and write about herself and show her personality in her essay.

Akinyi: That’s good advice. Thank you! I’m going to call her now and tell her all of your advice.

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

To revise means to make changes, especially to correct and improve something.

A masterpiece is something created with great skill and of excellent quality.

To end up with means to get as a result.

Writer’s block is the problem of not being able to think of something to write about or not being able to continue writing an essay, story or other document.

When you put pressure on yourself, you demand excellence from yourself or you expect to be able to do something well or quickly. As a result of the pressure, you can feel stressed and worried.

Concise means to give information but use few words. It means to not include extra or unnecessary information.

To ramble on means to talk or write for a long time without any clear purpose or direction.

Purple prose: writing that is elaborate (having much detail) or ornate (using fancy words).

When something is succinct, it is briefly and clearly expressed. A person uses few words to express his or her idea.

To be genuine means to be sincere and honest.

Ready to learn more English? Our materials can help.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.